No Legitimate Justification for War with Iran

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the Britannica Blog

No Legitimate Justification for War with Iran

by
Scott Ritter

Given the complexities of the modern world, and the uncertainties inherent in such, it is prudent for any nation possessing global reach and ambition to be prepared to defend its legitimate interests through the use of military force. The geographic reality of Iran's physical location vis-à-vis the Strait of Hormuz, and the dire economic consequences that would accrue should Middle Eastern oil supplies become choked off through any closure or lengthy disruption of shipping through the Straight of Hormuz, dictate that the United States plan for the possible deployment and employment of its military to secure this strategic shipping lane.

But there is a far cry from preparing for the possibility of conflict, and planning for the implementation of pre-emptive military action designed to eliminate capabilities not forbidden under international law (such as Iran's nuclear energy program) or facilitate regime change in a sovereign state. The actions underway by the US military, operating under the aegis of its civilian leadership, are indicative of the former, not the latter, and as such can be categorized as undesirable on the part of those who embrace the rule of law set forth by the Constitution of the United States and, in related fashion (one only needs to read Article 6 of the Constitution) the Charter of the United Nations.

The United States should only consider the use of military force as representing a viable option once it has exhausted every venue short of war to resolve an identified national security problem. This must include seeking authority for such a military strike in accordance with international law as set forth under the Charter of the United Nations, as well as carrying out the coordination between the executive and legislative branches mandated by the U.S. Constitution. In the case of imminent danger to national security, decisive action would of course need to be taken, hence the need for updated military contingency planning. However, there is simply nothing transpiring in Iran today that constitutes categorization as an imminent threat to the national security of the United States, and as such nothing about the Iranian situation can be interpreted as providing justification for any accelerated military action that seeks to circumvent due process.

However, the reality is that the United States continues to plan to initiate and sustain a military strike against Iran. The Executive Branch of the U.S. government has successfully manipulated the Congress of the United States to the point that, through two War Powers resolutions (one issued in September 2001, the other in October 2002), there no longer remain any Constitutional remedies to the problem of unprovoked unilateral military action by a Unitary Executive which increasingly positions itself to operate above the law and beyond legislative oversight.

In the environment of post-September 11, 2001 America the executive branch of government has successfully extricated itself from legitimate oversight by claiming to be acting in the interests of homeland security. The resultant "Global War on Terror" has served as a cover for actions which are more about implementing far-reaching global dominance per the National Security Strategy of the United States (initially promulgated in September 2002, and recently updated in March 2006). Policies of regime change in Iraq were implemented under the umbrella of reaction to the terror attacks of 2001, although Iraq was not linked in any way to that horrific event, or the perpetrators of that event. In the same way, the U.S. government today seeks to pursue similar policies of destabilization and regime-termination in Iran making similar rhetorical linkage, although the factual record clearly demonstrates Iran's absolute lack of involvement in either the September 11, 2001 attack or the organization, al-Qaeda, which carried it out.

0000081990-iraq00009-002.jpgAny military action on the part of the United States against Iran, lacking as it would be in justification and legal authority, would ultimately fail to achieve any objectives that could be construed as improving either the regional security posture of the Middle East, or the national security environment of the United States. In fact, the exact opposite situation would arise, with the Middle East sinking into a morass of conflict the consequences of which would detrimentally impact the global energy markets. Since the ostensible justification for any strike against Iran by the United States is illusory, there could be no real security benefit derived from a strike, in the same way that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 did not increase the security of the world by eliminating WMD stockpiles, since those stockpiles did not exist.

Iran today is a nation suffering under the combined effects of decades of sanctions, conflict and governmental mismanagement. There is a growing recognition inside Iran, reaching to the highest levels of government that something needs to be done to effect a change in course for the Islamic Republic. Iran has long since ceased engaging in the kind of irresponsible international adventurism which characterized its export of the Islamic Revolution. Iran's nuclear program, declared as being exclusively for energy use, has become an impediment towards the normalization of relations with the world, and Iran would be willing to negotiate it away if the appropriate diplomatic environment could be created, especially vis-à-vis the United States. Iran's relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon could likewise be moderated through genuine diplomatic engagement which sought a resolution to the crisis in southern Lebanon in a manner which respected the sovereign will of the citizens of south Lebanon.

The bottom line is that while one may be able to articulate justification for prudent military contingency planning in the Middle East inclusive of an Iranian scenario (I myself participated in such planning in the mid-1980's), there must be a distinction between planning and implementation. Implementation of military action should only come in the face of an identified viable threat, authorized by proper authorities in accordance with due process set forth by legal mandate, and then only when all venues short of conflict have been exhausted in seeking a resolution to the situation. None of these prerequisites for conflict have been met in the case of the current state of affairs between Iran and the United States. Simply put, there is no justification whatsoever for the United States to be planning for the implementation of a pre-emptive war of aggression against Iran. If we are to have learned anything from history, it is that such pre-emptive wars generally tend to lead to defeat (Iraq, 2003) and are recognized by international law as constituting war crimes as we saw at Nurnberg in 1945.

Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including "Iraq Confidential" (Nation Books, 2005) , "Target Iran" (Nation Books, 2006) and his latest, "Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement" (Nation Books, April 2007).

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